SOUTHWEST WISCONSIN—Embarking on a mission trip to another country, two college students discovered they had more in common than an interest in the medical field.
During the plane ride to Nicaragua, Journee Hutchcroft, a Potosi graduate, overheard Brittany Tashner, a Cuba City graduate, say she was from the Platteville area.
“I told her I was from there, too. We hit it off from there,” Hutchcroft said.
They were in the same group of students for the VIDA volunteer program, both being from UW-La Crosse, but Hutchcroft was in the group for dental students and Tashner was with the medical students.
The Vida volunteer program features dental, medical and veterinary disciplines to improve the overall health and well being of Central American communities. Vida´s public health mobile clinics are transported to the rural setting. The program focuses on two important areas: prevention and treatment. They promote healthier lifestyles in Central American communities and students gain an understanding of the region´s diseases and the conditions that might cause them.
Hutchcroft and Tashner were stationed in two separate countries for a total of 13 days away from home in January.
Hutchcroft, a junior at UW-La Crosse majoring in dentistry, will be applying to dental grad school this summer. In the United States, dental students can only shadow the profession; there is no hands-on experience.
“It was a chance to interact with patients acting as a person on the team,” Hutchcroft said.
VIDA offers hands-on experience for dental, medical and veterinary students in the United States, who don’t get that type of experience otherwise. In Nicaragua, Hutchcroft was able to apply prophylactic paste that dental hygienists use, put fluoride on kids and assist with the restoration of teeth. In Costa Rica they mainly did health education as they couldn’t work with patients. Students provided health education, made home visits, gave first aid kits and promoted healthy foods.
Hutchcroft said they were in Nicaragua a little longer than in Costa Rica because they could actually perform in the clinics in Nicaragua; Costa Rica had stricter laws preventing hands-on interaction with patients.
Tashner, a sophomore at UW-La Crosse majoring in radiation therapy, had a completely different experience. She said the students were placed in groups of three or four to ask patients questions from a sheet. Based on the patient’s answers, the students would try to decide a prognosis and report it to the doctor later. The doctor would then determine what the prognosis was and discuss it with the patient and the students.
Tashner especially liked seeing the patients’ faces when she was able to help them.
“Meeting with them and talking about their health, they really appreciate it,” Tashner said. “We weren’t able to do it all on our own because we’re still learning.”
Tashner differed from others on the trip because she doesn’t have her CNA certification.
“I had no idea what it would be like to do patient observations,” Tashner said. “It was still cool to do when it wasn’t exactly my major. I learned how to do blood pressure, temperature and heart rate, the vitals.”
Tashner said she wasn’t a big fan of the dirtiness of the other countries. She said they were beautiful, but there was garbage everywhere.
“Cleanliness is not a huge part of their life,” Tashner said. “It was hard to get used to. It’s a different aspect of life because we don’t live there.”
She said the people were very friendly everywhere they went, though.
“It’s hard to see the different living situations,” Hutchcroft said. “It’s sad to see how people lived and how hungry the people and animals were. The animals were skin and bones.”
It wasn’t all work. The students had two days of clinicals followed by a recreation day. Those free days were spent zip lining or visiting the ocean. They also got to see some of each country while riding to the different locations.
“It was nice to have Britt there because we could relate,” Hutchcroft said.
Tashner said having someone from so close to home with her on the trip was comforting.
“Even though I didn’t know her before, her mom knew that I was going and somehow knew me,” Tashner said. “We became close right away and spent a lot of time together.”
Tashner first heard about the VIDA volunteer program through an e-mail from the Radiation Therapy Club over the summer. She thought about it and eventually asked for more information.
“I knew another guy going, so I think that helped my parents be OK with me going by myself,” Tashner said. “I’ve never gone on a trip like this by myself.”
Tashner had been indecicive on her major before the trip because it is a very competitive field.
“This experience helped me decide I want to do this for the rest of my life,” Tashner said. “I like to help people and I know it’s something I’ll be good at.”
Tashner said she hopes to work in a hospital treating cancer patients.
“Cancer has affected my family and I want to try to prevent cancer,” Tashner said. “Because cancer sucks.”
Hutchcroft found out about the volunteer opportunity from a flier at school.
“It definitely was an amazing experience,” Hutchcroft said. “I saw things I wouldn’t see here. I saw how grateful they were for us being there and getting free dental care.”
Hutchcroft recommended students getting a similar experience.
Tashner preferred Nicaragua to Costa Rica mainly because it was windier, meaning it was cooler.
“It was fantastic,” Tashner said. “It was cool to meet everyone. You never know what it will be like. We all had a similar reason to go. We all wanted to be there, it wasn’t like anyone was forced to go.”